Monday, September 09, 2013

Sneak Peek: Best Practices in Online Course Design for Higher Education

I am assembling a set of best practices for online course design in a higher education setting. It’s hard to do. I started about two weeks ago and almost every day I add something to it. It now measures about four pages in length. Now I find myself wondering if the document is getting too large? Will people read it if it is that long? Hmmm. I will have to think about this.

So far I have categorized the document into six major sections:
Section 1. Overall Elements of the Online Course and Learner Support
Section 2. Course Outline
Section 3. Course Material
Section 4. Communication, Engagement and Activities
Section 5. Graded Assessment
Section 6. Accessibility
Do you want a sneak peek into Section 1? Sure you do. Here are my top 5 items that fit into the first section - Overall Elements of the Online Course and Learner Support:
  1. Brand the course website to be consistent with your Institution and/or Faculty. Have a unique image (with Course Code and Course Title) on the main page of the course website that provides differentiation from other courses in the same Faculty.
  2. Ensure simple and intuitive navigation in the online space.
  3. Provide learners with an effective orientation to the course including an instructor introduction. The introduction should convey the instructor’s enthusiasm for the subject and be encouraging to learners that this course will be rewarding.
  4. Provide the learner with links to: technical support, library, writing center, academic policies, etc.
  5. Provide as much of the course material as possible for the 1st day of class.
What do you think of those five items in Section 1? Do you disagree with any of them? Do any of them resonate with you? Leave a comment below.


jpiascarlin said...

Have you linked each Section to a page where visitors can reach?

You could rename your sections 2-6 as a,b,c, etc. As of now they look totally independent of Section 1.

Attention span over the Internet is brief. Are your explanations one page per section or even one paragraph per section?

I also feel that voice conversations help, (as through a webinar or a phone call) to establish relationship.


Eric Tremblay said...

Hi Jackie,
Thanks for the comment. I am still evolving the document and hopefully in another week or two I will be able to release the entire thing to the wild for more comment. It's basically a list of point form items - so far I have 52 points split among the 6 sections.

Greg Walker said...

Hi Eric,
How about some human interaction for learner support? What type of interaction will take place to help learners feel comfortable with the community they will be learning in?

debbie yoshino said...

Hi Eric! As I gain more experience in online courses, I'm beginning to find that a synchronous meeting while challenging may be a critical piece to establish community. I find myself most engaged during the live synchronous meetings. Having said that, I recognize the time zone challenge and am not sure how to address that.

Eric Tremblay said...

Excellent comment Greg. In Section 4 of my documents entitled "Communication, Engagement and Activities", I do touch upon aspects that make learners feel comfortable in the online learning space. Stay tuned!

Eric Tremblay said...

Hi Debbie,
Great comment. As a student in an online course, the times at which I have felt most engaged is during small group work. In my case, the small group work that appealed to me most was entirely asynchronous.

What I think your comment illustrates is, that just like every learner has her own unique learning style, every learner has their own preferences as to activities that make them 'feel' engaged. Online course design is not a scientific exercise per se. I feel that that variability of student perceptions is the important variable to consider. To work with that variable, I feel it is important to provide students with choices and variety in their online learning. Giving them the opportunity to shape their experiences according to their preferences will help maximize their satisfaction in the course while continuing to move towards achieving the Learning Outcomes.
Thanks for the comment.

Rosanna said...

Section 3 Course Material, I suggest adding: Design learning materials that are aligned with evidence based eLearning principles and multimedia theories and practices.

Dawn MacDonald said...

Can't wait to read more about it!

jyinprocess said...

Just curious, are you working from the Quality Matters framework on this or are you starting from scratch?

Eric Tremblay said...

Hi JY,

I have consulted several resources out there, including the Quality Matters framework. I am also mixing in my experience designing online courses for the last 12 years. So the type of information in my handout will be familiar to many who are experienced in this field.



Jennifer Schultz said...

Hi Eric,

These best practices I found interesting and really resonated with the simple navigation and design.

In general do you think these principles and overall best practices would also work for adult education courses such as professional development courses and continuing education?

Jennifer Schultz said...

Hi Eric,

I think all of these best practices made a lot of sense, especially the 'simple navigation'.

Do you think these principles would also work for adult education courses, such as continuing ed or professional development courses? I wonder how important an introduction from the instructor would be as important to this group?